Vanguard Video! Leah’s Video for The Intelligentsia I: Revolutionary Awakening (Week 10, Day 1)

Hello, Revolutionaries! This is our first video for Week 10. I apologize that I am getting it to you a bit late. Our teaching assistant today is Maggie and our subject is the first wave of the Russian intelligentsia.

Let’s start with a few announcements. Thank you for your good work on the blog these past two weeks. There are a few of you who haven’t yet made any posts. If that applies to you, then you probably got an email from me at the end of last week. If I wrote to you individually, please respond. You don’t need to do you blog posts before you write back to me. My main concern is to find out whether you are okay, or you are having difficulties. So please write back and let me know what your situation is.

Second announcement: If you are in a group that has already posted your Midterm Media Projects, then you got feedback from me over the weekend. Overall, I was blown away by the fun, creative, thoughtful projects you all put together. If you have any questions about my feedback, please let me know.

Now that we’re done with midterms and on track with remote learning, it’s already time to start thinking about your final papers. I sent out that assignment by email on Sunday, and you can find it on the course website under Assignments, too. I scaffolded this assignment into a few different steps, to make it more manageable. Your first deadline is in one week. By Sunday, April 12 at 5pm, you need to come up with a Research Question and a list of sources you plan to use in writing your paper. Remember, you should only use sources from the syllabus. That means you can dig deeper into a question we considered together in class, or you can take sources from different parts of the syllabus and put them together to think of a new question. Either way, you have a week to figure out what you want to do. You should submit your Research Question and List of Sources on Sakai. I realize the 12th is Easter. If that’s a day you will be taking off from work to celebrate the holiday, you should plan to get your work finished the day before. I will meet with each of you individually on the 13th or 14th to talk through your materials. I will create a shared document sign-up sheet, so keep an eye out for my email sharing that with you in the coming days. If you are not able to do a video meeting on Teams, you should still sign up for a meeting, but let me know your situation. We can also do your meeting by phone. If you have any questions about the final paper assignment, please let me know!

Okay, let’s get to talking about the First Wave of the Intelligentsia. As you read, the intelligentsia began to emerge in the 1820s. Last week, in discussing Pushkin, we talked about the first half of the 19th century being the Golden Age of Russian literature. In a way, we might also think of it as the Golden Age of Russian culture and intellectualism, as well. Thanks to the policies of Catherine II and Alexander I, in this era Russia had a fairly large community of educated people who were interested in discussing their beliefs about Russia’s past, present, and future in a variety of ways. They discussed these issues in person by meeting in discussion circles at each other’s houses, and they also discussed them in print by publishing essays in various journals. This educated public was still a very small percentage of the population of the Russian Empire, but it was large enough at this point to be self-sustaining.

I’ve just said that Catherine II and Alexander I deserve credit for the emergence of the intelligentsia. But we should also give credit to Nicholas I. Although he was a more conservative ruler, his policies helped to shape the intelligentsia’s development. When we talked about the Decembrists way back at the start of the semester, I noted that they took some of their inspiration from the wave of nationalism that spread across Europe in the early 19th century, spurred on by the Napoleonic Wars. Nicholas I was also very much a nationalist. In fact, he summarized his regime’s core beliefs with the slogan: “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality.” By this he meant that his subjects owed their loyalty first and foremost to the thee pillars that lay at the foundation of their society and defined Imperial Russia as unique among European states: the Orthodox Church, the absolute power of the tsar, and patriotism for the Russian nation. Today, we can easily identify that this last term as problematic, because Russia was a multiethnic empire. But in Nicholas’ era, which was also the era of the first generation of the intelligentsia, everyone agreed that the Russia had a “national essence.” Where they disagreed was on the nature of that essence and how it should influence Russia’s future.

Nicholas also shaped this first generation of the intelligentsia by putting limits on them. His defeat and harsh treatment of the Decembrists made political revolution unviable for the time being. In fact, many members of the intelligentsia worked for the government and hoped to reform it from within, rather than overthrow it. And he also instituted a robust censorship regime. His Third Department controlled all publications and monitored university curriculums, and don’t forget that Nicholas himself vetted everything Pushkin produced after 1826. This censorship regime pushed the conversations among the intelligentsia into the realm of literature and history. But of course, they were always really talking about politics.

Another important piece of the puzzle is the social composition of the intelligentsia. As Saunders notes, the majority of educated Russians were still members of the gentry. But a new group was also entering the scene: children of middle class families of merchants and free peasants, people well off enough to pay for their children’s education, but who lacked titles or access to court circles. This group was known as the raznochintsy, which means “people of various ranks.” It’s an awkward term for an awkward group; they didn’t have a clear place in society. Vissarion Belinskii, whose “Letter to Gogol” you read for today, is a member of this group. Their different background gave them a different perspective on the major questions of the day and helped to keep the debates among the intelligentsia vibrant.

The most important debates among the intelligentsia in this period was the debate between the Slavophiles and the Westernizers. We’re going to use our primary sources to unpack their differing perspectives. As you read, Kireevskii started out as a Westernizer, but became a Slavophile. The essay we’re discussing today comes from his Slavophile period. Belinskii, on the other hand, was a Westernizer, as his letter makes clear. Something to keep in mind as you read: Nicholas I didn’t appreciate the Slavophiles any more than he did the Westernizers. Rather, he saw both groups as a threat, because they both sought major changes in Russian society and governance. Both groups were liberals, though with different aims in mind.

Let’s start with some questions about chapter 6 in Saunders’ Russia in the Age of Reaction and Reform.

Leah’s Discussion Questions on Saunders

1. Based on your reading of this chapter, what are the main characteristics of the intelligentsia of the 1830s-1850s? How do they compare to the Decembrists, in terms of similarities and differences? What factors enable the intelligentsia to emerge at this particular moment in Imperial Russian history? Can you identify previous Political Revolutions and Social Revolutions we’ve discussed in this class that contributed to their appearance on the scene at this particular moment?

2. One of the major ways the intelligentsia discuss their ideas is by forming discussion circles. Look though Saunders’ description of these circles on pp. 157-159. What makes these circles so significant? In what ways do they expand the intelligentsia’s horizons? In what says do they limit them?

Think back to Lyudmilla Alexeyeva’s memoir about the birth of the Soviet human rights movement during Khrushchev’s Thaw. Remember, she described the kompaniya of the 1950s and 1960s as being like the 19th century intelligentsia. Based on what you’ve read, is her assessment accurate? If so, how might we expect to see this intelligentsia of the 1840s evolve over time?

3. Saunders notes that for this first generation of the intelligentsia, the way they discussed politics was by discussing literature. How exactly did this work? How effective of a political debate can you have this way? How might such debates have shaped the development of Russian literature? Do we do a version of this today when we debate popular culture?

4. As you read, by the 1840s, the intelligentsia had divided into two camps: Slavophiles and Westernizers. In your analysis, what are the main ideas of each group? What do they have in common and where do they differ? Are they more similar or more different? Did either group (or both groups) pose a genuine political threat to Nicholas’ regime?

Now I’m going to ask you some questions about the primary sources. I gave you the option to read either Kireevskii or Belinskii, though I hope that some of you were able to read both. When you write your blog post, you can just focus on the questions that pertain to what you read.

Leah’s Discussion Questions on the Primary Sources

1. Belinskii’s Letter to Gogol. As you read, Gogol became known as a progressive social critic and a Westernizer through his novels The Inspector General and Dead Souls. Both were satires: The Inspector General made fun of corrupt bureaucracy, and Dead Souls was a takedown of serfdom. These novels made Gogol a darling of the Westernizer intelligentsia. But in 1847, Gogol published a new book disavowing Westernism and saying that everyone got him wrong. Judging from Belinskii’s “Letter,” what exactly is he so angry with Gogol for? What does he see as Gogol’s real crime? How does this help us understand the intelligentsia’s values?

2. The basic message of Gogol’s 1847 book is: You all misunderstood me. Dead Souls doesn’t mean what you think it means. Does Gogol have the right to claim the final word what his work means? Or is Belinskii’s interpretation equally valid? How do we think about these issues today?

3. The heart of Belinskii’s Letter is his declaration of a writer’s duty to society. Make a close reading of thee long paragraph in the middle of p.258. According to Belinskii, what role must a writer play in society? Do you agree with Belinskii? Do writers have a social responsibility to speak truth to power, first and foremost? Why or why not? What are the costs and benefits of placing that duty on their shoulders?

4. Belinskii and Kireevskii take very different views on the value of rational thought. Their views are most clearly expressed in two passages. For Belinskii, read p.254. For Kireevskii, read the top half of p.177. If you read only one author, how would you characterize his views on the issue of rational thought? Do you agree with his perspective? If you read both authors, how do their ideas differ? Who do you agree with more and why? Or do you think they’re both wrong? How do we think today about Kireevskii’s assertion that rationality and enlightenment make us miserable?

5. Belinskii and Kireevskii also differ on the place of religion in society. For Belinskii, read pp.255-256. For Kireevskii, read p.194. How would you characterize each of their views? How do these views prompt the two writers to look to different parts of society to lead Russia into the future? How does this help us understand the differences between the Westernizers and the Slavophiles?

According to Kireevskii in this passage, the nobility may have forgotten the Orthodox way of life, but it has lived on in the peasantry. Orthodoxy pervades and gives meaning and unity to Russian peasant life. Is Belinskii’s perspective directly opposed Kireevskii’s, or can they work together?

6. Kireevskii argues that it’s a mistake to see Russian culture as a less-developed version of European culture. Rather, it’s an entirely different culture, springing from different historical circumstances. One of the key points of his argument is that while Europe’s intellectual inheritance comes from Ancient Rome, Russia’s comes from Ancient Greece. Look over pp.183-184. For Kireevskii, what are the major values that Europe has inherited from Rome, which he condemns? Although Belinskii was a Westernizer, would he entirely disagree with Kireevskii on this point? Do you agree or disagree that these values are harmful?

7. We’ve established that Kireevskii is not a big fan of Western rationality, which he associates with Roman ways of thinking. On pp.191-193, he contrasts this with what he calls Greek, or Eastern, ways of thinking. What values does he highlight as belonging to “Greek thought”? How do they differ from his characterization of “Roman thought”? What values does he attribute to each side? Does he convince you that “Greek thought” is better? Why or why not?

It’s notable in this passage that Kireevskii references a wide variety of European philosophers: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Fiche, Schelling, and Hegel. Is he suggesting that his own education was useless? Does he want Russians to stop studying these philosophers?

8. At various points in this essay, Kireevskii tells a highly suspect version of Russian history. For example, on pp.195-197, he claims that Russia was never subject to conquest, and thus Russians live harmoniously in a way that Europeans can never achieve. This is a fantasy. He knows it, his readers knew it, and we know it today. What do you make of his historical fantasizing as a form of argumentation? Does it undermine his claims? Or is it acceptable within the boundaries of a philosophical text?

9. Kireevskii closes with a long meditation on the differences between European and Russian ways of life, as he sees it. He sums up by declaring that Russia must look to its Orthodox roots to find a new way forward, which will be better than the path Europe is on. But he has a caveat. Read the last two paragraphs on p. 207. Can you explain Kireevskii’s vision in your own words?

9 Replies to “Vanguard Video! Leah’s Video for The Intelligentsia I: Revolutionary Awakening (Week 10, Day 1)”

  1. Belinskii states that Gogol’s true crime is the fact that he is disconnected from the current reality of Russia. He tells Gogol that he is stuck in viewing Russia from “a beautiful far away”. Gogol doesn’t realize that “Russia sees her salvaation not in mysticism, or asceticism, nor pietism, but in the successes of civilization, enlightenment and humanity.” When Gogol points to Serfdom and Autocracy as being good for the nation, Belinskii reinforces how disconnected he is “The most vital national problems in Russia today are the abolition of serfdom and corporal punishments …” Also, when Gogol tells the people to seek out the clergy, Belinskii counters by showing how people really see the Orthodox church “Does not the priest in Russia represent for all Russians the embodiment of gluttony, avarice, servility, and shamelessness? Do you mean to say that you do not know all this?” Belinskii is so angry with Gogol because Gogol is failing to ascertain the current situation. The institutions that Gogol is promoting are same ones that Belinskii and the Russian peasants are decrying. Belinskii is furious with Gogol because he is being ignorant to the actual problems of Russia.

  2. To discuss question three, in regards to political debate and literature. Saunders notes that often political ideas were referenced in literature whether or not the author intended it to be. Such is the case with Pushkin, who wrote many works that seem to purposely have a dual political meaning. Due to Nicholas I heavy censorship, literature was both private and published. As overly expressive works would not pass and be able to be published. Thus, many private essays were exchanged. However, published literature hid political ideas under satirical tools and many stories from the past- which then the intelligentsia would discuss. To this, I think that this is an effective way to discuss ideas that are considered taboo in society. Moreover, I think it an effective discussion tactic, as they are not discussing to make political decisions, but as people who would be discussing almost in a salon type environment. Discussing literature as opposed to actual life allows for ideas to flow easier as it is not actual life. These debates might have propelled the surge of Russian literature as it gives people something to say. Literature might have become more pointed at the government, or shaped in a way that has ideas of socialism. I think political ideas within in artistic works is still very common in our society. Especially in tv shows and movies, like snl, where the same satrical tools are used in a comedic way. Moreover, artists often push for political meanings within their art.

  3. In response to Question 2 of Belinskii’s letter to Gogol:

    Belinskii’s critique and response to Gogol’s Selected Passages from a Correspondence with Friends goes beyond harsh detestation of the book’s message. Belinskii attacks Gogol as an author that has bitterly betrayed him and many others upon retreating from his social critiques in his previous work, Dead Souls. The letter, is Belinskii’s way of reclaiming that “original” meaning of Dead Souls, which raises an important question, who determines the meaning of a work, the artist or the audience? Belinskii raises a good point in his letter to Gogol, “I do not represent a single person in this respect but a multitude of men, most of whom neither you nor I have ever set eyes on, and who, in their turn, have never set eyes on you” (Belinskii 253). Gogol had many members of the intelligentsia who looked towards him and his work, Dead Souls, as a defining work in revolutionizing Russian social and bureaucratic challenges. By retrieving and re-writing the meaning of Dead Souls, Gogol is disenfranchising his following (who are Westernizers), whether he knows them or not. This leads Belinskii to state that he is “always prepared to forgive a writer a bad book, [but] will never forgive him a pernicious book” (258). But Gogol is the author to his work. He envisioned, wrote, and took credit for Dead Souls. While he might reclaim his message as the final word of the book, he cannot take away the “original” interpretation by the Westernizers. As a result, both the artist and the audience can simultaneously hold the keys to the meaning of different works, even if the messages are different and conflicting. This helps evolve the ultimate status and meaning of the work, with angry Westernizer’s like Belinskii spending the extra time to critique Gogol’s 1847 work and giving new life to Dead Souls.

    These similar issues appear in contemporary work, as well. One famous example I can think of is the Star Wars franchise. Star Wars has a wild following. When George Lucas released the first episode of the prequel trilogy, “The Phantom Menace,” a good portion of fans were bitterly upset. Some on the most dedicated among the Star Wars fanbase even made a re-cut/re-edit of the movie to improve on its quality and capture the essence of the original trilogy. Lucasfilm subsequently condoned this work by the fans. However, this is how a conflicting interaction between the artist and their audience create a dialogue around works. While “The Phantom Menace” may not be the most well liked Star Wars movie of the franchise, the dedicated fans were able to create a dialogue surrounding what Star Wars is. Both the artist and audience are correct in their interpretations of works.

  4. In response to Question 8:
    Kireevskii’s main argument is that Russia should go back to traditional Russian culture because the European culture that Peter I had imported and enforced does not fit Russia, and Kireevskii described western rationalism as “a one-sided, deceptive, corrupting and treacherous principle” (Saunders 162). The argument itself is rational before I read into the support and evidence that Kireevskii provided in “Letter to Count E. E. Komarovskii.” As I read the letter, it made me question his argument more and more. He tried to claim that European culture derived from Rome while Eastern culture derived from Greece. A significant part of Roman culture, thought, morals, and society were structured in inspiration of the former Greek city-states, so that had me confused.
    I had known from the Saunders text that Slavophiles detest violence, and Kireevskii claimed that European culture and thought came from violence which has some ground because in medieval times, everyone was fighting. Then he tried to make the claim that Russia lived harmoniously, and it was never subject to conquest. His claim made me question the legitimacy of his argument. His “historical fantasizing” is a terrible form of argumentation when there is historical evidence in contradiction to his claim. Rousseau uses “historical fantasizing” when he considers what human life was like before the development of society, and that works because there is no written evidence or documentation to contradict or support him. His audience just needs to believe in the rest of his argument to believe his fantasy. On the other hand, Kireevskii just made up the harmonious Russian history which weakens and undermines his argument. His argument is rational, but his evidence certainly is not.

  5. 3. Belinskii, “Letter to Gogol”

    According to Belinskii, the role of a writer in society is to inform the public. In this case, Belinskii believes the writer must create literature that “shows signs of life and progressive movement.” (Belinskii, 258) He goes on to state, “The title of poet and writer has long since eclipsed the tinsel of epaulettes and gaudy uniforms. And that especially explains why every so-called liberal tendency, however poor in talent, is rewarded by universal notice…”(258) In this statement, I believe Belinskii is getting at the fact that poets and writers use to just be something shiny that was there, but was never really looked upon, as in it wasn’t as important as other things. As for the second sentence, I believe he now thought that all writer no matter how talented or untalented, were able to be important to the public. This is because the public/ society was shaped by what people were writing about at the time. I definitely agree with Belinskii that writers are important to society and important to shaping society. Literature has a major effect on people and how they think. A piece of literature can make someone feel something they hadn’t before, a different piece can change how someone thinks on subjects such as politics. The possibilities are endless, and all thanks to writers. They help transform society.
    Depending on what genres writers are writing, the responsibility of writing the truth is not always the most important thing. However, in this case with Belinskii and nonfiction, the responsibility of using the truth is basically 100% necessary. How is the Russian public suppose to learn from “fake news” in books that are meant to educate the public on Russian history and society? They aren’t, unless the truth is written.
    The problem with putting this responsibility on the writers shoulders has to do with biasedness. Though Belinskii, Gogol, Pushkin or other writers, were to be writing the truth, bias can slip in. If that were to happen, then the Russian public would not be educated in the correct way. And by this I mean, the way that leads the Russian public to think for themselves and decide their own thoughts. Because the job of a writer is to educate the public, the writers can not shoved their opinions onto the Russian public.

  6. As mentioned above, to Belinskii, the main role of a writer is to inform the public. However, it is in his declaration where we can see what he means by informing the public is. Belinskii shows that informing the public is not as much as disseminating information as it is being the leaders and defenders against the autocracy, orthodoxy, and nationality. This is a difficult concept to grasp and it is important to note that here, Belinskii is confident in his understanding of the Russian public and that they are weary of struggling for expression but finding no outlet. Through this lens it becomes clear that Belinskii believes that the Russian people believe writers to be their outlet. That writers are the source that allows them to rebel against the censorship. It is in this declaration that he also shows the dangers of writers, in that they have a sort of creative liberty that can get them into trouble. Belinskii argues that the Russian public, while still in early stages is prepared and ready to to rise for healthy institutions and is capable of understanding truth from falsity. Through this, Belinskii argues that writers not only bear the social responsibility to be this outlet of expression for the Russian people but if they are not the Russian people can see this and understand. Belinskii shows that they will forgive a bad book, but they will not forgive one that damages the vision of what the Russian writer should be.
    The danger here for a Russian writer is they have to be able to walk a thin line. They have the severe censorship on one side and on the other they have the Russian public which is expecting a particular kind of literature. The Russian writer knows that they can not write what they want but instead must write what appeases both sides.

  7. Gogol’s sandcastle of previously held principles or his infatuation with climbing the social ladder may have the original spur to dig into Belinskii’s side, but it was Gogol’s willingness to impersonate someone who spoke for the Russian people and to sell them out for his own gain that Belinskii had a real issue with. Belinskii began his letter by tearing down Gogol’s impersonation’s creditability. Belinskii pointed out that Gogol’s prolonged absence from Russia (from 1836 to 1848 he traveled Europe, spending most of that time in Rome), which removed him from the opportunity to live the labored lifestyle of the Russian people. “For in that beautiful far-away you live a life that is entirely alien to it;” the italics used by Belinskii seemed to satirically exhibit Gogol’s preference to the beauty of Europe to his own homeland, unless it was advantageous Gogol to pretend he knows the motherland. On a side note, I also wonder if Belinskii was switching around Gogol’s words, “Russia! Russia! I see you now, from my wondrous, beautiful past I behold you! How wretched, dispersed, and uncomfortable everything is about you…” (Dead Souls, 1842), against him.

  8. To answer question nine about Kieervskii, the direction in which he wants Russia to go intellectually is vastly different from the western idea of intelligence. He writes about the flaws of western society and how it has made Russia worse, not better. He argues that other countries did not have to give up their individuality to be deemed as European. He also blames the way European society takes on religion. He does not agree with the Roman Catholic church, which is why I think he wants to include the Orthodox church into the future of Russian Intelligence. He writes on 207 that he wants Russia to grow and learn from its “native roots” and deter from the western civilization’s influence; however, he does fear a future where things go different than what he imagines. He continues on 207 to say that Russia cannot solely depend on the past to create a new future. He argues that it would be detrimental to the development of Russia if we revive the old culture again. He argues that they have to use what they learn from Russia’s past like the preservation of the Orthodox Church, in order to grow. He wants the past principles to be used to grow new ones. He also argues that, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, Russia should not force Orthodoxy into society, but rather let it influence society.

  9. In response to question 2:
    The circles were significant and important because having discussions that involves politics and opinions were censored. Since censorship took a heavy toll on sources such as news papers and literature, people took it upon themselves to still have free and open discussions that were private in order to not get in trouble. Between 1801-1855, nearly 400 private circles were form, which the majority took place in universities (Which I did not find surprising, since intellectuals can discuss and influence others greatly within universities, even to this day). The crucial circles took place in the University of Moscow, especially with the increase involvement of students. What is interesting is how some circles were “bigger” or “popular compared to others. Saunders spoke of two circles in particular, which is Alexander Herzen and Nikolai Stankevich. Herzen and his members were not well known, while Stankevich and his followers were making a name for themselves. Despite their membership difference and popularity, they did not advocate for governmental change, and it was simply a discussion group to engage in discussions and civilized debates on what ever subject it may be. It could be listening to music, reading both foreign and domestic literature. However, there were limitations. It was mostly aristocrats, or people that have ties with aristocrats. These circles were mostly in Moscow, and there were little to no groups in other major cities such as St. Petersburg. However, this was important because people are more likely to engage in intellectual conversation not with a few but with a big group, and the spread of knowledge and hobbies was spreading, especially with censorship that was not allowing such actions to occur in the first place.

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